Posts Tagged ‘Peace Corps’

Trip to D.C.- Tribute to Richard Holbrooke


Much earlier this year we took a trip to Washington D.C. and I wrote a series of blog posts talking about viewing my father Edward Reep’s World War Two art work at the Army Art Archives, visiting the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian to view my father’s work in their collection, and a whole series of  posts involving a particular painting of my father’s titled The Shrine and a successful effort to get it on permanent display.  I also talked about our visit to the Newseum and seeing the Berlin Wall, which was so interesting since we had just viewed my father’s paintings at the Army Archives of that very wall, which he painted when he was temporarily commissioned brigadier general and sent on special assignment in the 1970s to paint the wall before it fell.

All of that was tremendously exciting but it’s not why we went.  We went for a tribute to Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat who died last year.  For those of you unfamiliar with Holbrooke, you can check out his resume here.  Besides being an Assistant Secretary of State, the person who brokered the Dayton Peace Accords, and many other seemingly impossible achievements, he was to us Dick Holbrooke, our in-country Peace Corps director while we were volunteers in Morocco in 1971-1973.  So we went to Washington to honor him and the founding of CorpsAfrica, a sort of in-country Peace Corps by and for country nationals, by establishing a fund to support the Morrocan in-country director in a pilot program.

Tribute to Richard Holbrooke

We only heard about it a week or so before the cocktail party reception and that was sure a new kind of thing for us to do – say, well, ok, let’s just do this, fly across country for a cocktail reception.  We stayed at an interesting place – the Hotel Harrington.  It was very old, in fact, Washington’s oldest continuously operating hotel.  I might call it marginal but I also think I’ll stay there again because it was cheap and within walking distance of everything – including a Forever 21, H and M, Macys, and other shopping.    We rented a car for an afternoon to go to Fort Belvoir, the Army Art Archives, but other than that, we walked.  (We did not brave eating there.)  I will say that I left lots of clothes in a closet and they mailed them to me, no charge, for which I was very grateful.  Especially when they arrived and I saw I left many more than I remembered.

Hotel Harrington

We enjoyed the reception.  We were the only volunteers from our group who came although one of the staff members attended.  We did have the honor of meeting Rachad Bouhlal, the Moroccan ambassador to the United States and it was his first official function- he had just arrived in the U.S.  His easy, friendly manner belied the sophistication and knowledge these diplomats have.  Besides having a degree in mathematics, speaking three languages, serving as the head of several government agencies and the ambassador to several countries including seven years in Germany, this man is a pilot and founded a wildlife film festival in Morocco.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my life sleepwalking.

We did urge Ambassador Bouhlal to visit us in Bakersfield.  After telling him we lived two years at 38 bis Hassan L’Oukili in Oujda, we told him Bakersfield is like the Oujda of California – under-appreciated but full of interesting things and actually, agriculturally important to his country.  Or potentially so.

My husband Mark Smith and I with Ambassador Bouhlal

So that’s about it.  We did have a lovely dinner at the home of friends Larkin and Katie Tackett and their children Maya and Ben.  They have just recently moved to Austin where we will visit them again as we are driving through there in a couple of months.

Me, Larkin and Katie with Maya and Ben

Finally, I again saw my friend Jack Duvall.  That is so odd.  We went to high school, graduated in 1964, may have seen each other 30 minutes in the intervening 40+ years at reunions (I’m sure that’s an overestimation), and then last October when I went to New York for Occupy Wall Street I heard someone call my name and it was Jack!  We had dinner together several times.  Since he lives in Washington, Mark and I had dinner with him again.  I’m not complaining since Jack was always one of my favorite people. I guess leaving California was the key.

Dinner with Jack Duvall at Bombay Club

Mark and I walked back to our hotel.  It was quite cold, the walk was brisk, but who could complain?  We had scenery like no other.  It was a splendid trip.  And finally – six months later, that concludes the blog posts about this trip!  It’s about time.

Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains


Last stop ahead

Time for the last big drive, Al Hoceima to Tangier.  At this point I believe we were regarding this as a strenuous trip because we had NO IDEA how much driving would be involved.  As we left Al Hoceima, the countryside was beautiful with orchards in bloom, wild lavender by the road.

Orchard outside of Al Hoceima

Some of the hills looked like the farms along The Three Gorges in China – multi-colored and terraced.

The weather was gorgeous and there were people alongside the road gathering herbs.

We passed fascinating haystacks.

Haystack outside Al Hoceima

We passed prickly pear in full fruit, but we noticed something alarming.

We were going up.  We had forgotten about the Rif.  We were driving Morocco’s third major mountain range.  But the weather was lovely, we could still see the Mediterranean – how bad could this be?

Bad is the answer.  It was getting colder and I did not have my long underwear on.  The car heater of course was still broken.  And it was foggy, then raining.  We passed patches of snow up on a hill.  I took a picture, thinking, “Ooh, I’ll show the kids how high we were and how close to snow!”

Snow in the distance

You might be asking yourself right now, as I am asking myself, what do the kids care if we are passing snow?  We have snow all the time at our cabin in Alta Sierra.  And the kids aren’t little either.  The youngest is 37.  Old habits die hard.  So when we passed snow at the side of the road, I took a photo of that also.

Closer patches of snow

If I’d had my crystal ball with me I would have known that in a matter of moments we would be driving through a snowstorm.


Yes, for about 1½ hours.

Visibility was low.  And snow was starting to coat the roads.

The snow starts to stick

Snow is beautiful, one must admit, even in the midst of it.  The trees were turning white.

And then rain.  The road tricked us – we’d be descending and Mark would say, “We’re out of it now, going down.” And we’d go up again.  Each time, Mark hopefully said the same thing, and finally, at last, the snow and rain and fog were gone and we were out of the Rif.  We’d seen the snow plows going up to 7,000 feet, where we had been, and where the roads had been awful.  It registered now why Joaquin had said, as we drove away from Casa Paca, that the roads probably hadn’t been fixed yet since winter.  This place gets torn up each year from snow and ice and rain.

And all of a sudden, as if we’d never been through rain, fog and snow, there were wildflowers.


So.  Tangier.  We lived there for six weeks in 1971 during our Peace Corps training.  And we were going back.  The American Legation, where we trained and lived, was the first property the United States owned on foreign soil, and it is currently the only National Historic Site not in the United States.

George Washington and King Mohammed I had correspondence back when, trying to solve the Barbary pirate situation.  And thus Morocco came to be the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  We couldn’t wait to see it again.

But we needed to get rid of that rental car which meant find the airport.  Signage had been pretty good throughout the country so I just said to Mark, let’s drive into town and we’re sure to see an airport sign somewhere.  Now understand that “town” has gotten a whole lot bigger and we drove a very long way, before, on the verge of desperation, we saw a sign.  We knew we couldn’t go very much farther without landing in the Atlantic Ocean, and we knew the airport was south of town near the coast, but nonetheless, we were beginning to look for airplanes and what direction they were landing.

Walking happily into the airport to the car rental desk, eager to tell them about the lack of oil and the squeaky brakes and the lack of heat, we found – no one.  There was one person in the whole array of rental car agencies and he said, oh, they aren’t here, just put the papers under the window.  OK? OK, we did, and found Andrew from Dar Jand who was picking us up, and we were on our way to the medina.

We wanted to stay in the medina since the Legation was in the medina and it would be like old times, sort of.  On tripadvisor I found Dar Jand.

Dar Jand

And a plug for tripadvisor – it was invaluable.  I got most of our lodging based on recommendations on tripadvisor, and none of them were in the guide  books.  Unless it’s Rick Steves, I don’t really trust those books like Frommers and Fodors anymore.

Andrew and Janet – the JAND of Dar Jand, are an American couple who own a quirky, four (or was it five) story place in the medina.  Janet spent five years renovating it while Andrew was still working in the states and I am in total awe of what she accomplished.  When she arrived she spoke no French or Arabic, and she says now she’d never do it again – had no idea just what she was in for.  But she did a fantastic job.  Honestly? It was nice to be with Americans and speak English.  Andrew showed us where everything was, including the laundry.  We’d been three days in the same clothes and I mean all the same clothes and were desperate for something clean.

View from Dar Jand - Medina Rooftops

How was it that we knew that medina inside and out once?  It’s a rabbit warren, a maze, it tricks you into walking in circles.  But we’d had the adventure squeezed out of us by now and lacked the energy to care about where we ate or what we saw.  We just wanted to be there.  And visit the Legation.

Medina steps outside Dar Jand

Andrew gave us directions, we set out, walked in circles and got lost.  Someone offered to lead us so we knew a tip would be in order, which was fine with us.  It’s a way of working, it provides a service, and everyone we saw in this country worked hard.  We wondered about how unemployment is defined.  Are people selling their vegetables in the souks considered unemployed? Or people selling on the side of the road?  What kind of living do those people make compared to the cost of living? One thing is clear, I expect to the population in general as well as outsiders: the country runs on tourism.  It’s only 10% of the GNP and that’s hard to believe.  The unrest in the Arab world isn’t good for Moroccan tourism, although Morocco is completely safe.

So we were happy to pay our self-appointed guide to reach the legation.  Jerry Loftus, the director of the Legation museum, met us and actually got pretty excited when he realized we really truly had lived there during a Peace Corps training.  We were searching for our room; when we lived there we had the best room of all since having a two-year-old daughter gave us privileges. Where other volunteers bunked together and shared bathrooms, we got our own room and bath!  We did not just have any room, however.  Ours had a secret door with a hidden area that one could escape to if one didn’t want to be found.  And I don’t think it was for getting “alone time.” Perhaps the area could be treacherous.  We explained all this to Jerry but we couldn’t find the room.  I knew in my head exactly how to describe it, and now we’ve found that Jerry is actually living in that room – but since he has not found the secret door, he didn’t match our description to his room.  It may not be there but then again…it was a secret.

Jennifer outside of our room 1971

How did Jerry figure out he was living in the room? We sent him old photos after our return, which he was happy to have, room identified or not, as there is very little in the way of records for that time period.  He did bring out a very old, very crude scrapbook that someone had given him, and Jerry wondered about the photos.  We knew who the people were because it was our training group!  (By saying “very crude” scrapbook, I’m not disparaging the work of whoever made it – but it sure makes a stark contrast to all the technology available today.)

Scrapbook in legation

Little by little, the Legation is being restored and the museum enhanced.  There are copies of letters between George Washington and Mohammed I – difficult to read with the florid script of the day but thrilling nonetheless.

Courtyard steps 1971

Legation courtyard 1971

Dining room American Legation today

Dining room during Peace Corps training 1971

Jenny at kid's table 1971 - on the balcony

Legation balcony today

Exterior Legation crossing over alley

A neat feature of the American Legation is that it spans the road in the medina.

So it was over.  We’d seen what we came back for – Oujda, the Legation, Tangier, and points in between.  Tangier was the most different of anywhere.  A tourist in Tangier used to feel like a gladiator thrown into the pit, set upon by people offering to sell you goods, guide you, or pick your pocket.  It was not so much like that now, blessedly.  Plus, many shops do not bargain anymore, which is a huge relief no doubt and makes the tourist experience livable.  So many of Tangier’s tourists make day trips from Spain, and to have one’s first experience of Morocco seem like a hell-hole can’t be good for extended tourism.

Tangier is also feeling more like part of the country.  Hassan II did not like the North and never set foot in Tangier, which left them the poor stepchildren of Morocco.  Mohammed VI, however, has a residence there, visits, and it’s made a terrific difference to the populace to feel like they count.  That, at least, according to our host Andrew, and if I’ve misremembered, I offer apologies.

Here are a few pictures of our wanderings in the medina.  Everything is interesting, colorful, exciting.

Purple wall, Tangier medina

Blue wall, Tangier

Blue passage, Tangier medina

Inside a holistic herb store, Tangier medina

Medina port, Tangier

Now our zip was completely gone.  We were ready for Spain.  We’re getting old and organized tour groups are looking better and better; but we couldn’t have seen all we’d wanted to without driving the country and it was worth it for sure.  We’d been on camels, in planes, cars, taxis and trains in a little over two weeks.  We found a country we loved that had developed incredibly in 40 years yet still retained its character and heart.  We headed through the medina to the port to catch a fast ferry to Tarifa  to the bus for Sevilla.  We got one last look at Tangier as the ferry pulled away.

View of Tangier from ferry

We’ll be back.  Next year is the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Morocco so chances are good we’ll attend, then go to Agadir and spend a week or so at a beach resort and spend time with Krim.  As soon as we recover our energy from this trip, it’ll look a whole lot better for a return.

Next – to Sevilla.


Our Peace Corps Work Worked


The Fruits of Mark’s Labors

Forty years ago we set out with our two-year-old on our great adventure – joining the Peace Corps.  We were just burning up with the idealism of the late ’60s and our desire to make the world better.  Mark heard a radio ad recruiting for architects and planners (he is an architect and planner) so we applied.  One day we got a phone call from Dick Holbrooke (yes, the Richard Holbrooke who just died, the master diplomat).  We were each on an extension when Dick asked us, would we like to join the Peace Corps and go to Morocco or Tunisia?  Yes, we would.  We hung up and raced to the bookcase to find the atlas.  Where was Morocco anyway? We had no idea.

We went, and right now let’s get it out of the way – the question I am always asked, What did I do in the Peace Corps?

This is a loaded question for me.  My husband is an architect and planner, and we were invited into an architect/planner training.  I was called a non-matrix spouse but promised I (and the other non-matrix spouses) would be given a job once in our final destination.  I pretty much didn’t have any formal skills at that time and didn’t have a teaching credential, but the Peace Corps knew that and said something would be available.  We were assigned to Oujda, Morocco, which made us very popular since Oujda was the least desirable location and we requested it, getting everyone else off the hook. After being somewhat angry for months about the lack of a job and the lack of action by the Peace Corps office to get me one, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  Mark had been so valuable as an architect/planner that they wanted us and probably only had a vague idea of what to do with non-matrix spouses.

I started asking around on my own, trying to find some sort of meaningful activity but I wasn’t able to.  Part, or most, of that was political.  Oujda was at that time a small town on the Algerian border.  (Now it’s a bigger town on the Algerian border.) Women were treated passably well but they didn’t work at anything I could do without taking a job away from someone else.  Everyone thought we were CIA agents anyway, so I gave up the work idea and focused on being my own little personal good will ambassador.   And had a child.

See why this is a loaded question? I never know what to say when people ask me, “What did you do?”  So we were there just because of Mark, and it would be important that his work counted for something.

We went, and Mark spent two years in the office of planning and housing, as well as in the field, making site plans.  These are plans to guide the development of towns –  analyses of where housing should go, where the mosque should go, where business should be located – so that infrastructure can be utilized more efficiently and a town can be a pleasant place to live.  The theory behind this was good: the government did not want to see mass migration to the cities and the development of shanty-towns; they wanted people to live satisfactorily in rural areas.  By and large, this strategy seems to have worked.

Mark kept copies of all the site plans for 40 years and now we were going to see if they had been effective.  We were driving through Zaio, Taforalt, Sidi Bouhia, and Mt. Arrouit. We also wanted to drive through Berkane, the town fellow volunteer Mike Zelinski worked on for his entire two years.  First, however, we headed to the Gorges of Zegzel, where we had been on excursions so long ago with fellow volunteers and our friends the Krims.  We left Oujda, headed for the night to Al Hoceima, with these stops in between.  It was going to be another long day.

First stop: Gorges of Zegzel – we drove to the Grottes de Chameaux (cave of camels) and it had changed for the worse.  Whereas water used to gush from the opening into a pool where people swam, no water was gushing now and the pool was concreted in.  The cave entrance looked blocked inside with debris.  Forty years ago, you could walk through huge rooms and come out at another end.  That was disappointing, but at least we found it!

Grottes de Chameaux in 1973

Grottes de Chameaux 2011

Picnic in Gorges of Zegzel in 1973 - with mint tea

Look in the back right and you’ll see the Butagaz bottle.  It wouldn’t be right without mint tea.

When we went on these picnics or to the Gorges, we needed to fill up on gas.

Filling up at the Shell Station 1973

We headed on to Taforalt to see what changes 40 years had wrought.  This one was funny.  A housing tract had been constructed right where Mark had indicated on his plan, but it was a design unlike any we’d seen in Morocco!  More like Swiss mountain homes.

Housing development Taforalt

Not the style you’d expect, but at least they followed the plan.

We were hungry and had arrived at a traffic checkpoint, so we asked the soldier/security police/whatever he technically was where we should eat.  We had a little chat about how we used to live there, etc. and went off for lunch.  We were just a tad worried because we had all these city plans spread around in the car as we were talking to the officer, but I guess he thought we were harmless.

Outside town there is a strip full of butcher shops, cafes, and individual tagines sizzling on grills.  We each got a tagine, which surprised the waiter – I don’t believe very many non-Moroccans end up there!

Lunch in Taforalt

We had tagines for lunch

Sidi Bouhria was the next stop.  Mark was able to orient himself with the plan and found that it had been of some use. The mosque was right where it was supposed to be.

Sidi Bouhria

We stopped in Zaio and again, plans had been used.  The town had developed just as it should have.



Still lots of room for growth, but I think it’s incredibly gratifying to know that two years worth of work in the Peace Corps did actually amount to something.  The towns aren’t exciting to look at in the pictures, but when you think about what it represents, and when you  picture the slums and shanty towns in India, for example, you can really appreciate the forethought of Hassan II, never mind his other shortcomings.

Mt. Arruit had developed more than any of the other towns.  This next is a picture of Mark and others from his office taking a look at the site for Mt. Arruit.  There’s pretty much nothing there.

Mt. Arrouit 1971

This is what it looks like today from the same vantage point.

Mt. Arrouit today

On to Al Hoceima

Our trip down memory lane was finished and we pressed on to Al Hoceima.  Since we didn’t want to rush visiting the little towns, we again were in a race against dark, plus we were tired, hungry and grumpy.  We missed our turn and went into the thick of town – it was still light then.  But Al Hoceima was crowded, full of one-way streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to be there for sure.  By the time we got it all sorted out it was dark and we blindly drove out of town searching for the correct turn.  How we did it I don’t know because we ended up in a residential neighborhood high on a hill, but I reasoned that what goes up must come down and it did.  Where was Casa Paca?  Apparently I was to have called Joaquin at Casa Paca for him to meet us and guide us to his guest house.  But I didn’t.  We did see a sign:

So we thought it would be a piece of cake until we found ourselves winding up a road – not even a road, a rock path – up and up and up.

Road in the daytime

No lights, pitch black.  We thought we were horribly lost and were going to turn around when we saw what looked like a parking lot prepared for three or four cars.  We stopped.  It was Casa Paca.  It was dark.

I called “hello, hello” and as we, despairing, were about to drive back down the hill, a voice called, “Susan?”  Saved.

It was Joaquin, who had given up on us.  We were the first guests since Christmas (Casa Paca is on the Mediterranean and guests just don’t go there in winter.  It’s a beach place.) We went in.  I said, “Do you have any food?” I must have looked awfully frazzled, because he and his wife whipped up a dinner of the most tender and flavorful grilled steak, grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and homemade French fries.  I will forever be grateful to this wonderful man.  We wished we had more than one night to stay, but it was just a stopping off point on the way to Tangier.

Casa Paca

Joaquin built this place just about on faith.  He had constant doubts if anyone would want to come there and watched his savings evaporate as the house took shape.  He did a wonderful job – really thought out all the details to make guests comfortable – and it’s been a success.

Casa Paca Patio

The door on the left is our room. From our room we looked out on the Mediterranean and two interesting things: one a fortress, and the other, a big rock.  The fortress is a Spanish garrison with very high walls and the only way in or out is by helicopter.  The other, the rock, is Spanish territory and if you look closely you’ll see a Spanish flag.  This apparently is hotly contested land.  Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Spain just can’t give the rocks to Morocco.  Not too long ago there was a little skirmish here.

There are a couple of towns in Morocco that are part of Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both on the Mediterranean coast.  I’m sure Spain strategically is happy to have the towns and even the garrison, but those two rocks?  Really.  If I’d waded over there I’d have been in Spain!

If anyone is ever in that part of the world, I’d recommend Casa Paca.

Casa Paca comfortable sitting room

Joaquin takes pictures of all his guests and puts them in the stairway.

Now, our pictures will be up there also.

With Joaquin at Casa Paca

Next, we cross the Riff Mountains and go to Tangier, our last stop in Morocco.

Ornaments Take Three


More ornament stories.

I bought this in 1971 in Malaga, Spain.  It’s a little set of a chair, hat, castenets and also a guitar.  I don’t know what it was intended for, but I use it as a Christmas ornament.  In 1971 we were in the Peace Corps in Oujda, Morocco.  Oujda is on the Algerian border and about 60 kilometers from the crossing to Spain.  There’s actually a small town on the Moroccan coast, Melilla, that is part of Spain.

So – it was cold.  We had no heat and we could see our breath inside the house.  We moved the stove into the bedroom and tried to keep warm by having the oven on all day, but it was a very small oven and ineffective.  We moved our dining table into the bedroom also.  The table consisted of a wide board on bricks and cushions for the floor.  That arrangement worked until I spilled a pot of soup I was cooking on our very small, light three-burner stove,  all over our bed.  And it took so damn long for anything to dry!  We hung our laundry in the living room all winter and it took days to dry.

I was pregnant, cold, and not real thrilled, so we decided to take a boat to Malaga for the day.  We got the cheapest tickets for the overnight trip and oh boy, was that ever a mistake.  We must have been in the very worst part of the ship.  There was a bunk bed – Jennifer probably slept on the top, but I don’t recall.  The only thing that I remember was that I threw up all night long.  My dear long-suffering husband took care of me.

But Malaga was warm! Oh it was nice to let warmth seep into our bones.  I remember looking in stores, Jennifer playing at a park, seeing the bull fighting ring, but I have no recollection of whether we spent the night or not nor do I remember the return trip.

That’s a lot to get out of one Christmas ornament, isn’t it?

Ah, the shoes.  Michael Purcell gave this ornament to me a few years ago just for fun.  Why? Remember when Bush was giving a speech in some Arab country and a guy threw his shoes at him?  The oddest bits and pieces of history stick, and inconsequential as it was, it’s now history.  I think many people will remember the shoe incident.

Ah, Jean Luc.  I taught 5th grade at Voorheis School and Tracy Elder had the other 5th grade class.  She is very sweet and generous, always picking up things at yard sales and so on that she knows other people will like.  She found Jean Luc Picard and gave him to me.  This was a moment of high excitement and I am eternally grateful to Tracy for this.  Yes, I’m a trekkie.

And while we’re on the subject…I bought this last year.  All you original Star Trek viewers, remember The Trouble with Tribbles?  It was a favorite for so many.  When you push the button on the ornament, the tribbles bounce around and parts of Kirk’s dialogue from the episode play.  This year’s new ornament is from the episode where Kirk and Spock were forced to fight each other, and the music that plays is so corny!  It’s amazingly terrible, but so wonderful too.  Mark and I watched Star Trek avidly and we probably have every episode of The Next Generation memorized.

The space shuttle.  An astronaut.  These probably came from the Smithsonian catalog years ago.  They tell me about my youth.  We were always excited about the space program.  I remember Dad waking us up when Sputnik was overhead, even if it was in the middle of the night.  It was so exciting! To run outside on the lawn (there goes the crazy family again) and watch for the little speck to move across the sky.  Mark and I of course watched every second of the moon landing, and we got up to see launches on television no matter what time.  That meant we saw the tragedies also.  The shuttle lands here in Kern County at Edwards Air Force Base when weather prevents it from landing in Florida.  When Ali was just over one, we were babysitting and heard that the shuttle would be landing.  We jumped in the car and drove the hour plus to Edwards, made it on time, and watched the shuttle land on Rogers Dry Lake bed.  Wow.  I don’t know if Ali observed anything but we marveled at how quickly the shuttle dropped in – really, it is as if it drops in, it loses altitude so quickly.  Great day.

One more for tonight.

Glennwood Hot Springs.  Soon after Karen and Steve moved to Colorado, we headed out on a spring break, taking Ali and Daxton with us.  One day we drove up to Glennwood Springs to see the caverns and swim in the hot springs.  I’ll always remember all of us taking a tour of the caverns – except Jackson, who was screaming his head off.  I believe Steve stayed out with Jackson.  The hot springs were wonderful but Karen didn’t go in – she was pregnant.  Karen’s spent a lot of time being pregnant.  Good trip though.  I’ll always remember Ali’s amazement when we went up the mountain on an aerial tramway.  She didn’t know we’d be going up so high, and so high off the ground.

Good memories.  Even Jackson’s screaming fit.

You know? July was a hell of a month. Plus, Earth is a Mighty Vessel. Art!


Gotta say it.  Ever have those months that when you look back, it seems completely surreal?  I just have to get it off my chest, and of course I know everyone wants to know about MY month – so here it is.  For a preview – this is what I felt like at the end of the month.

I felt like this chopped up pile of wood I found by our cabin. I was broken down, fragmented, and needed to be put together again.

It started with me going to L.A. for a couple of days to help my friend Michael. He’s in India now and was in the process of getting ready.  Sort of like closing out one life and starting another.  He now has no apartment and no job in the United States.  I’ve got his financial stuff to take care of, so he is free and clear to step through the looking glass.  Michael is a sign-language interpreter, and he’s interpreting for a recent grad school grad (grad school grad?) who’s Indian.  He’ll be there for at least six months.

Buying a computer with Michael

I remember back in 1971, Mark and I did the same thing.  We joined the Peace Corps. Put all our stuff in storage and set out for Morocco.  Took two-year-old Jennifer with us. Both sets of parents were horrified – how could we do such a thing? How unsafe it would be.  What about Jennifer? Could we get jobs after being out of the country two years? Looking back, it was pretty brave – walking into Oujda, Morocco, with only basic language skills and having to find a house to rent and furnish it with a PC volunteer salary, but it wasn’t foolhardy. We were young, when, of course, you do things you’d think two or three times about now.

So Michael is taking a big risk – stepping into his new life in India.  I’m happy for him to have this adventure because after living in a foreign country, life is never the same.  It’s fuller, richer, and everything around you takes on more relativity.  If we didn’t have nine grandkids with number ten on the way, we’d be right back in the Peace Corps.

Anyhow – I was in L.A. helping Michael and he woke up one day with strep throat. Not good. So I zoomed back to Bako and left for Florida on July 5.  I’ve written lots of posts about that – I’m sure no one wants to hear the words “heat” and “humidity” once more!  But it was all that and more.  Nothing has ever tired me out as much as that trip, but had I known in advance, I would have still gone. I was simply unable to pass up the chance to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Would I go back in July? Given the choice, no.  Never.  But I wouldn’t have to – I’ve been.

Frazzled parents on the soccer field in Palm Beach

Breakfast at Three Broomsticks at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Then came the pathetic 24-hour return trip to California. One day home. Off to the cabin with all nine grandkids and two daughters.

Grandkids at the cabin

Now, would you like a laugh? Because you are going to get one. I was so frazzled that I made the absolute most pathetic cake in the universe for Jen and Karen’s birthdays at the cabin.  It was all I had so I had to use it.  Get ready for a ROFL moment.

The most pathetic birthday cake in the history of mankind

Two days home.  More stuff with Michael including a mad-dash day right before his flight replacing everything in his lost wallet! This is not a good idea, losing your wallet the day before you embark on a new life.  Yet maybe it was symbolic – starting again.

Straight to Costa Mesa for the Adam Lambert concert, which I also wrote about.

Then up to Pismo for some days with my friend Pat.

Me with Patty Cake

Then the road home.

If I was home 5 days in July I’d be surprised.  But I can’t check my calender definitively because my computer, and therefore outlook, is kaput.

First week of August: the air conditioner broke in our house, my computer crashed and is still absent (working on the macbook), lots of running around to get the cabin ready for renting. New bank accounts, web site, ad infinitum.  Fasting lab work.  I’m happy to report that my lipid panel and my cholesterol levels are on the low side.  One victory for August!

Did I mention the dead bird and the frog in my closet? That the cats – I suspect Tiger, really – have/has been urinating in the closet and my room? That’s solved now, but I think it was too much for me to be gone such a long time.  I got pherenomes from the vet to spray on the spots, and I have happy cats now.  Calm cats.  I am giving them both plenty of attention.  Maybe Tiger will stop being so crabby.

Oh my, there is more. But I can hardly remember. My parents of course.  Yesterday I wrote the story about the keys.

Ah – I forgot the mammoth trip to IKEA (1 1/2 hours away) and putting together bookcases, beds, mounting televisions, etc.  And worse than almost anything was a horrible phone call to Direct TV to get it installed at the cabin.  My head was spinning – it was the highest pressure sell I’ve ever experienced, and when I was hanging up after probably  ONE HOUR, the sales guy still wouldn’t stop selling.  I had to say, “Thank you. I’m not ordering your product. I am hanging up now. Goodbye.”

But I did order it because it’s the only service available in Alta Sierra.  HOWEVER I ordered it in a bundle though Verizon and it was a very civilized procedure.  Have to zip up there Thursday for installation.  And on Friday my sister, her husband, and my two nephews from Juneau are coming for the annual summer visit.

OK, it’s off my chest. It’s a wonder I’m still sane. I do not want to go anywhere for a long time.

SO finally I had time to produce some art this weekend.  In fact, I had to because the deadline for the museum show this year was today! The theme is Vessels.  I worked on a collage for two days.   I decided to meet the theme head-on and wrote a poem about vessels which  I’ll put it in here because the words probably won’t show on the screen, and then I’ll put in the picture.  There is a lot of intentional symbolism in this collage.  I wonder what people will see, since they can’t see inside my mind.

Earth is a Mighty Vessel

Earth is a mighty vessel, bountiful,

Impersonal, arid.

We rise with this vessel, higher.

We leave this vessel when we can swim.

Except those who sink.

We laugh with riches from vessel Earth.

Our bodies become vessels,

Adorned as Earth adorns herself.

Earth is a bumpy vessel with which

We float, rise, paddle, dive.

Earth’s buoyancy brings us back.

Except those who sink.

Accept those who sink.

Earth is a Mighty Vessel

And now we move forward.

Summertime, and the blogging gets slower


Creative Every Day’s theme for July is Life.  That means everything, right?  So no matter what I write about, it meets the theme.  Leah suggested we could write autobiographical bits, and I’ve been meaning to write about summer heat, so I’ll tell a story.

I haven’t felt like blogging lately.  Couldn’t tell you why, specifically.  Perhaps I have nothing to say.  Most people who know me would say that’s impossible – I always have something to say.  Not so.  Maybe I’m in another fit of wondering why I should be blogging.  But you know what?  I told myself I’d finish out the year and I will.  Then, I’ll evaluate.

So it’s summer.  That could have something to do with it. We had a few very hot days, but mostly, our Bakersfield weather is atypically cool.  (The low 90s is cool for us in summer.)  But on those 100+ days, the heat zaps the life out of you.  Even in an air conditioned house, somehow you know how hot it is.

Here comes the sun

This isn’t actually the sun, nor even representative of one except that it’s round.  It’s a photograph I took of the London Eye with the individual compartments replaced by daisies, and that big daisy in the center.  Anything round in the sky makes me think of sun.  You can see more art here – and photos here.  The point is, all the photos with the sun are sunsets.  I don’t think we ever go out in the heat of the day to take pictures of the blazing sun.  Do we?  As photographers, we know to stay out of the harsh midday light.  Blazing, harsh – not words to entice you outside.

This is what it really feels like.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy – or not

I understand that lyric because I lived in North Carolina for three years with three small children – and without air conditioning.  There is no way to do anything fast.  Sometimes, moving at all is hard.  I’d lie in bed at night and try to work out systems for suspending myself from the ceiling so no part of my body would even touch the sheets.

Yet it didn’t seem to bother the kids.  For us adults, though, the livin’ was not very easy.  We had a very small house (it may not have even been 1,000 sq. ft.), five jobs between the two of us, and three kids under six.  Oh, and my husband was a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill.  Yep, our livin’ was not very easy.  Even with the five jobs, we had no money.

But what can you do?  You do what you have to – take care of the kids, plan activities, etc.  You would run in the sprinklers if you were in California, but in North Carolina no one has sprinklers.  Don’t need ’em.  It rains.  Nearly every day in the summer.  In the afternoon the sky would darken, the wind would come up, I’d gather the kids and anything that might be outside – not only so it wouldn’t get wet but so it wouldn’t blow away.  And then we’d see the lightning and hear the thunder.  It wouldn’t rain for very long usually- just long enough to leave us with steaming, saturated air one could barely breathe in.  Oh my, that humidity.

There was a foul odor in our bedroom.  We could not identify it.  We looked, searched, nothing.  After a two or three weeks it went away.  And two years later, when we moved out of that house, we rolled up the straw mat on the floor and, entwined in the straw weaving on the bottom, was a little mouse skeleton.  Unbelievable.  Gross.  We’d been smelling decomposing mouse.

I remember when the air conditioning in the car broke, and that was our only refuge.  We were so broke ourselves that I didn’t take the car in.  Finally, by September, I couldn’t take it anymore and in I went to the garage.  It was a $5 part.  For $5 I could have been driving cool.

That’s life

Not long ago, I said my life is a song.  I can’t get away from lyrics, as you can tell from the mini-headlines.  But that’s life; we did what we had to do.  Now, as an adult – an older adult – I don’t have to take care of little ones, and Bakersfield is not as humid as the south, but it’s harder every year to deal with the heat.  I don’t do dark well, but I have to keep my bedroom dark in the mornings to keep the heat out.  Have to open and shut blinds.  By late August, I am crabby but know the heat will continue through October.  Once in a while, there is a whiff of fall, everything relaxes, and then it’s hot again.

It feels like this:

Hot, electric, infra-red.  Thirsty.

Would you rather be hot or cold?

We humans are funny.  We’re always asking questions like,”Would you rather live at the beach or in the mountains?”  “Do you like summer or winter better?”  It’s as if we must pin ourselves down and choose instead of enjoying the merits of both.  After all this griping, I can say I’d rather be hot than cold, however.  We were in the Peace Corps in Morocco from 1971 to 1973.  Our first year, we had no heat in the winter.  Our house was new – a cement structure still holding lots of moisture, and we could see our breath inside. It was very cold.

We moved the stove into our bedroom so we could keep the oven on all day for warmth.  We cooked in the bedroom, which mostly worked out except for the time I spilled the pot of soup all over our bed.  We put our dining room table in the bedroom, which consisted of a plank of wood  supported by bricks.  It was low – we sat on the floor. The cold cement floor. Maybe we had cushions; I don’t remember. We bundled up like Eskimos but there is a point where one more sweater, one more blanket, won’t do it.  It’s as if you’ve reached maximun warmth and nothing else will help.

Jenny, who was two, would run around barefoot and it didn’t bother her a bit. I was always trying to get her to put shoes on, or a sweater.   Somehow we managed a trip to Malaga in Spain for a long weekend (it was very close to Oujda, where we were.  There is even a Spanish town, Melilla, in Morocco.) We took the cheapest boat to cross the Mediterranean in the cheapest staterooms.  I spent the entire night throwing up – I was pregnant.  But in Malaga it was warmer.  I knew what I had to do.  I took Jenny and went on home leave for at least four weeks, returning to stay with my parents in North Carolina.  I know from that experience that being cold is impossible.  More impossible than being hot.

I tried to find some photos to scan for this post, but it appears I didn’t take any photos in summer in North Carolina.  I guess it was too hot!

Heat is always on my mind

I am about to go to Florida – West Palm Beach – for a soccer tournament.  One of my granddaughters is playing on the AYSO team from our region.  I think I’ve had heat on my mind because I am a bit apprehensive.  Last summer we went to Disneyland on what turned out to be a very hot and humid day, and I didn’t do well.  But I want to have the experience of the soccer tournament, and then going to Orlando after it’s over to visit Harry Potter World.  So somehow I’ll deal.  And I’ll see a new place and the kids will no doubt find playing soccer with temps in the 90s and real feel in the 100s and humidity not nearly as hard as I will find just sitting in it.  I will take pictures, however.  And it’ll be so much cooler to relive it through photos.

So there’s my little slice of life, my autobiographical bit for Creative Every Day.  Life.  We have a motto here in Bakersfield – Life as it should be.  (Or sometimes not.)